The Great Resignation highlighted a stark truth for many employers: They need their people more than their people need them. Perhaps the phrasing seems harsh, but for years employers took the point of view that they held the upper hand in their relationships with employees. The past few years have illustrated that’s no longer the case as the employee-employer dynamic has shifted.
Employees now expect more than a paycheck from the companies to which they give their time, and they’re more than willing to leave if they don’t get it. A recent Paychex survey found that, while nearly one-half (48%) of workers intend to stay where they are for the next year, a significant portion of currently employed individuals surveyed — particularly Millennials and Gen Zs — could be lured away if given the right motivation.
So, what makes employees more likely to stay? It’s simpler than employers think. Today modern workers are looking for meaning in what they do.
More Than a Paycheck
People’s careers are deeply entwined with their identities, especially in the modern era. Professionals have always identified with the jobs they perform, but the emergence of “personal brands” and “digital identities” have undoubtedly cemented the idea that one’s work and personal lives are inextricably linked. The desire for a sense of purpose in the workplace is a natural extension of this trend. Workers, especially younger ones, want to ensure that their values align with the values of their employers.
While that sounds great, this can present a new challenge for employers. Highlighting “meaning” in the workplace can be challenging, especially when work that is meaningful to one employee may not be as important to another. So, where does one even begin? Well, the answer may vary from business to business, but here are a few best practices to creating meaningful work experiences for employees in a labor market that puts a premium on purposeful work.
1. Pay attention during the hiring process.
Making sure that an employee’s definition of meaningful work matches what the company can provide is the first step — and it starts in the hiring process. Evaluating candidates in a holistic fashion can help ensure a company is investing in the right person. A person’s goals, interests, passions and personality are just as important as their skills and experience. Although looking for “the right fit” might extend fill times, it’s a beneficial retention strategy in the long run.
2. Let values guide decision making.
Just as personal brands are increasingly important to workers, brand identities — personas — are dominating the business landscape. Social media has shifted the way brands and companies interact with the public. Brands are now able to have conversations with consumers about current events, get in on hot topics, and even weigh in on trending TV shows or pop culture stories.
Companies that use these channels to build a persona with clearly stated values may want to keep that in mind when making decisions. Employees want to see that their employers not only promote a set of ideals but stand by them consistently in all the choices they make. If a company behaves contradictory to its mission and values, it should anticipate concerns and take proactive steps to explain why the decision was made.
3. Prioritize recognition.
While “doing meaningful work” means giving back or contributing to the greater good to some, to others it could mean making a difference to their co-workers or managers. Feeling seen can help employees feel like they are valued — and that can give their work meaning. Let employees know when they are doing well and how that good work helped the team or the company. Doing so can help them feel more secure in their position and passionate about continuing as a part of the team.
4. Offer opportunities for learning and growth.
Another way to help employees feel valued is to develop comprehensive opportunities for continuous learning and development (L&D). Employees are more likely to feel valued when their employer takes an interest in their training and growth. In fact, a 2019 survey conducted by Axonify found 76% of employees say that a company would be more appealing if it offered additional skills training to its staff.
Employers that embrace individuals’ desires to develop themselves through training and development opportunities can make an investment in their people and in their company’s future. Showing interest in helping employees become the best versions of themselves means workers are more likely to put those skills to work to make the company a better place and contribute to business outcomes.
5. Expand the definition of benefits.
When most people hear “benefits” they think of health insurance or retirement plans. Both of those offerings are certainly important to employees, but benefits packages can go above and beyond that norm. Modern employees — particularly Gen Z workers — look for benefits that show their employers see them as complete individuals. Things like wellness days, mental health benefits and flexible work arrangements can show that a company is being guided by their appreciation for their employees’ needs.
For employers who want to go above and beyond, offering volunteerism benefits that allow employees to choose the causes and communities to which they give their time can help them feel supported and heard in the workplace. Benefits like paid volunteer days or rewards for volunteer hours may be a good place for employers to start boosting employee engagement and morale, both of which can foster a sense of meaning in employees’ work lives.
Employee Voices: The New Recruitment Guides
When you examine these tactics, the common denominator is that they rely upon listening to your employees. With more employees motivated by training and purposeful work than in previous eras, traditional wisdom around engagement and retention may face new challenges. Traditional benefits and salaries alone aren’t enough to keep talent — your people want continuous learning opportunities, recognition for their contributions and room to make decisions. It’s time to introduce a new basis for retention: your employees’ voices.
Studying trends is a valuable exercise, but every employee is unique. Only they can speak about what they really want — and meaning in the workplace stems from passion and understanding. Learning leaders who are unsure of what their employees want from their work lives might consider conducting surveys or holding informal meetings to learn more about what they can do to create a more meaningful work environment. Doing so can be the difference between offering a workplace that employees can’t wait to clock out of and one that is full of opportunities for workers to engage with their communities and passions.